Op-Ed: A tourism outlook on religious rights in South Africa

by  Unathi Sonwabile Henama 0

Religious tourism is a form of special interest tourism and is one of the oldest forms of tourism recorded in history. It is assumed that internationally 25% of the traveling public are interested in faith-based tourism.

When one adds to this the number of people who travel for faith-based conventions, and faith based activities such as weddings, bar mitzvahs or funerals, the number becomes extraordinarily large. World Religious Travel is one of the fastest growing segments in travel today. Religious travel is estimated at a value of US$18 billion, involving 300 million travellers.

South Africa’s CRL Rights Commission will conduct an investigative study into the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of people’s belief systems. This was a unanimous decision by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. *

The CLR Report, released on 11 July 2017, noted prima facie evidence of commercialisation of religion and recognised that foreign religious leaders, who operate foreign-based churches in South Africa, may have misused the South African visa application process. The CLR report noted that some pastors applied for a different type of visa, and yet once inside the country, they demand a permanent or residence visa.

Uncontrolled movement of cash in and out of the country

In addition, the CLR report noted an uncontrolled movement of cash in and out of the country, where some religious institutions tell their congregants that money has to be paid to their head office. Most of these head offices are based outside the country, and the money is repatriated out of the country without applying to the Reserve Bank.

These challenges would have to be addressed by the popular religious leaders that frequent South Africa, so that religious tourism can continues to grow in South Africa. Foreign pastors that have a local presence, include Nigerian TB Joshua of the Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN).

There was an accident that killed more than 80 South African’s when a guesthouse collapsed at the SCOAN, but this has not deterred South Africans from travelling to Nigeria to attend the SCOAN. Demand to travel to Nigeria to visit the SCOAN remains robust from South Africa, considering the cost is around R24 000.

TB Joshua is unlikely to visit South Africa due to the uncertainty related to possible arrest for the loss of South African lives when the guesthouse collapsed. This means that South Africa misses out on the thousands of pilgrims that usually attend his events hosted by TB Joshua.

TB Joshua remains the primary tourism resource for Nigeria, where eight out of 10 tourists who arrive are headed to the SCOAN. Even since the guesthouse collapse, TB Joshua has yet to visit South Africa. This means a potential loss of millions to South Africa, which is being redirected to Nigeria.SA.

Midrand likely to become a site of religious pilgrimage

Pretoria is not a traditional leisure destination, but the church services by Shepherd Bushiri, at the Pretoria Showgrounds attract more than 300 000 people. The Malawian prophet is based in South Africa. Major One is building a mega church in Midrand, that will be a site of religious pilgrimage for thousands of local and regional tourists.

Shepherd Bushiri should be granted permanent residency as he is a contributor towards economic growth.

Thanks to the government of Botswana for putting on visa regulations on South Africa based Shepherd Bushiri, who heads the Enlightened Christian Church, Pretoria will continue to benefit from thousands of Batswana that visit South Africa to attend the church services.

Soweto benefited from two New Year’s Crossover services in 2016 at Orlando Stadium and FNB Stadium. Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s crossover service at a 36 000 seated sold out Orlando Stadium, was broadcast to millions of worshippers, via live television, radio and the internet.

Sold out crossover services

Bushiri brought glitz and glamour as he sold out FNB Stadium, with more than 120 000 people attending the “Night of Honey” service. It was not the first time that Bushiri had sold out FNB Stadium. The first was the 2015 New Year’s Crossover ‘’Lion of Judah’’.

These events have been able to bring in thousands of religious tourists to South Africa benefiting the local economy. As we have learnt when the visa regulations were introduced, the unintended consequences of legislation must be analysed on what impact they may have on the tourism sector generally, and religious tourism specifically.

Foreign pastors would have to comply with South African legislation so that they can continue to benefit the growth of religious tourism in South Africa. Tourism continues to bring the bacon home with 13% growth in 2016.

  • The CRL Rights Commission is one of the Chapter Nine Institutions.

 Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.